I live in the Bay Area. I lived through the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 as well as the big fire in Oakland and the surrounding area in 1991 (not to mention the 1971 Sylmar earthquake in SoCal, but that's neither here nor there).
The Oakland fire burned the private school where I was working at the time. Being a very prestigious and wealthy school with good local connections, we were able to secure a building to use during the amazingly fast reconstruction of the school. But there was a week or so right after the fire when we were all unemployed and school-less--all of us, students, teachers, day care dudes (me).
During that week I decided I would volunteer with the Red Cross, as many many people had been displaced due to the fire--something like 3000 homes were destroyed--and the agency needed people. Given, these were upper-crust homes that burned, with well-off owners, but when everything you have goes up in smoke, whatever you might have in the bank is no match for getting what you need presently. I remember seeing people I knew and even gave vouchers to some. It was sobering.
I can't remember the details of the designation I was given, but it was something like Family Management/Services or something. (I got a laminated badge, but I've since lost it. I was proud of it!) I sat in the social hall of a local women's club (after a 1-day training) the RC was using. Families, waiting in queues and chairs like at the DMV, would come up, sit across from me at the table and tell me they had nothing. They had lost everything--the car, the house, clothes, pictures, old photos, the dog and the fish (so tragic for so many kids), grandma's silver and china, the kids' ceramic hand prints from pre-school and kindergarten. Some of the folks were dirty, tired, smelly and clearly in desperate need. Others less so. They didn't have their wallets, or any way to get money. All their phone numbers were burned back in the house so they had to rely on memory. Nobody was a freeloader as far as I could tell. It was a disaster and all were thankful, especially we volunteers. It feels good to help. And it's helpful.
My job was to assess the veracity of their claim, figure out what their immediate needs were and then give them a voucher for a good or service to meet those needs. I gave out vouchers for coats, food, hotel rooms--lots of hotel rooms. Sometimes I would have to call a merchant to convince them to take a voucher, pleading with them that the Red Cross is good for the money. They all took them, eventually. At one point I made a house call to an elderly gentleman who had been taken to a convalescent home and left there! I was able to get him found, fed, and confident he would be fine. All good.
I have placed a link in the sidebar to the American Red Cross for you to donate money for the Haiti relief effort. The Red Cross was fantastic in the aftermath of the fire in Oakland in 1991. I saw this first hand as a volunteer with responsibilities and some limited authority (to dole out vouchers). The system was incredible.
The Red Cross attends every disaster in the world. They are indispensable. They need cash in the coffers BEFORE a disaster. That is why I think you should donate to the Red Cross. And you should donate monthly, if you can. Haiti is going to be expensive and take some time.
Donate. It's there on the upper left of this page. (Of course I don't really mind if you give in some other way or to some other NGO. Just do your part.)